So was it enough?
I have to admit the BP settlement announced the other day suddenly sounded kind of small compared to all the years of discussion. Yeah, $18.7 billion is a lot of money — I guess. Who knows these days? — but it was quickly clear there are a lot of hands out.
Alabama’s portion of the settlement was $2.3 billion, but the state immediately scooped up $1 billion to just throw in the General Fund never to be heard from again. That left $1.3 billion in BP money for all of the environmental projects and every economic development project gleaming in area politicians’ eyes. But some of that had already been paid out, and in the end, the collection of elected and appointed officials making up the Gulf Coast Recovery Council are “only” left with about $600 million in BP payments to divvy up. That’s about 60 percent of what they’d hoped to have.
And then the kicker — all of this is being doled out over 15 years, which is a much longer time frame than most had expected. The gist is at least several on the 10-member council are upset. If you break the total down over that time, it’s a bit less than $40 million a year, and that’s not the kind of dough they were hoping to pass out.
Considering the last time we checked there were more than 90 plans on the table for what was expected to be $1 billion, an essentially free $600 million suddenly is bringing about as much joy as a broccoli cake at a 6-year-old’s birthday party.
This was the big chunk of what the Recovery Council was supposed to get to spend, and it’s not the open AmEx Platinum we all thought it would be. So what now?
It doesn’t take much to look at the list of proposed projects and cross-match them with the list of people on the board and identify a few “pet” projects. That’s not to say some of these projects don’t have real value, but there are more than a couple of head-scratchers in terms of what they have to do with environmental issues. If things are tighter than expected it’ll be interesting to see if political projects win out over those that have a more obvious environmental impact.
For instance, I’m sure the folks at the GulfQuest Maritime Museum will argue vociferously that the $10 million they’re asking for is environmental, because visitors will get a better appreciation of the ecology of the Gulf, blah, blah, blah. Still, I’d hate to see something with a more impressive ecological impact get short shrift because of the desire to push money to a project whose financial success has a lot of political types on edge.
It’s no secret an effort is afoot to have BP money fund at least some of Mobile County Commission President Connie Hudson’s $20-plus million proposed soccer complex, and since she currently sits on the Recovery Council, her voice will carry a lot of weight. But drawing a line between the oil spill and a soccer complex would be so tortured it would end up looking like a Rorschach test.
There are certainly others as well. But there are also a number of projects that look like they fall absolutely in the “environmental” wheelhouse and actually would make improvements in coastal areas affected by the spill.
It has to be a disappointment to be told you’d have a billion bucks to spend, then only wind up with 60 percent of that trickling in over 15 years. Most of the people on the Recovery Council are elected officials, so there’s at least a very slight likelihood political considerations may have entered their minds when thinking about what to do with the oil money. I will admit that’s just a guess.
So what will they do now? I suppose they could just hold the money for a few years, then dole it out to the most deserving projects, but that would be an unlikely show of restraint. Can the Recovery Council borrow against what they’ll receive in order to make big payouts now? I have no idea, but if they did it would cost a lot in interest and millions would be lost from the bottom line.
Somehow, though, it seems like a fitting situation in which to wind up. Ever since the Gulf Horizon exploded, people have been licking their chops like ravening wolves waiting for the money. It’s been a hemorrhage of money for five years now and yet it never appears to be enough. Remember the early days of the spill as people came out of the woodwork looking for checks to compensate them for damages? So many of those claims were massive eye-rollers.
Even now there are lawsuits over things as ridiculous as how many fish recreational fishermen should have caught the year fishing was shut down because of the spill. Yes, there’s actually a scale for fish values based on species. And naturally everyone filing a case missed out on the best fishing season of his or her life.
All of this has only been exacerbated because it’s taken five years to get to this point. Each and every day someone else wakes up with a new plan for getting some of that light, sweet BP cash.
In the long run, the spill is still probably going to be one of the best things that ever happened to this state financially. I know there are long faces today because there isn’t going to be a huge sack of cash thrown on the front step for them to rifle through, but even $40 million a year can still do a lot.
Figuring out which projects to fund is going to take a bit more wisdom than if hundreds of millions were just sitting there. Hopefully the Recovery Council’s tighter purse strings will serve to help it make decisions that recall why that money is there in the first place.